It’s Friday, the end of the work week, and all everyone wants to do is get home as quickly as possible. For the transit rider, it is time to enter the arena of unknown bus reliability. Will my bus come? Will it be on time? How bad will traffic be? We have all mentally asked these questions, but some have to ask them more than others.
Today we will look at the 5 buses that have the worst afternoon reliability in the Metro system and consider what can be done to improve them. These routes are generally low ridership and wouldn’t merit much capital investment, so we’ll focus on quick fixes where appropriate. Conveniently, each one of our tardy routes is from a different portion of the county. (On time data is from the King County Metro 2018 System Evaluation. )
The North Seattle bus route is late 42% of the time during the afternoon commute. Route 63 is a 9 mile peak express that only runs on weekdays and carries 700 passengers per day.
As you can see from the map above, the route is complex with different alignments in each direction. The most notable difference is the that the bus uses the express lanes in the morning to access Mercer Street, but uses the mainline to go north in the afternoon while providing freeway stop service to the U-District. It is a virtual certainty that the route 63 will be revised whenever Metro does the restructure that will be related to the opening of Northgate Link. Investments like signal timing and bus lanes would probably not become active in time to help.
So here are two changes that could occur that might help the riders of the 63 between now and 2021. First, eliminate the diversion over to 8th Avenue in the afternoon and keep the bus on Boren. Riders in the afternoon on 8th should be able to find other northbound options give how close they are to Westlake Center. Second, eliminate the afternoon freeway stop service to the U-District. Google Maps provides multiple alternative routings to the U-District all of which offer more convenience and freedom of choice than being dropped off on 45th street next to I-5. These two actions should help improve reliability until the expected northeast Seattle restructure occurring sometime in 2021.
Next on the docket of unreliable bus lines is the 179 with 47% of the afternoon buses run late. The bus route is 28 miles long and carries 800 passengers per day into Seattle.
The 179 is the epitome of a peak express. It wanders through neighborhoods, picking up people and hitting park and rides, then jumps on the freeway to Seattle. In the short run, adding bus signal priority in the three locations marked on the map would help improve reliability to a modest degree. In the future, adjustments will almost certainly happen to the 179 when Federal Way Link opens in 2024. The most likely outcome is that the 179 is truncated at Federal Way Transit Center in exchange for all day service.
Our Seattle based example of poor reliability is the 37 which runs late 49% of the time in the afternoon. The 37 is a milk run that starts at the Alaska Junction and loops around the Alki Peninsula before working its way to the Seattle core. It carries about 200 passengers per day and is 14 miles long.
In the short run, signal priority and bus lanescould be used to help improve this run. But given the coverage purpose of the 37, I am not sure how much they will help. In the very long run, we can expect these buses to be truncated at the West Seattle light rail. However, with Link service not starting until 2030 this route, which provides coverage to the Alki neighborhood, needs to improve its punctuality and passenger count.
Therefore, I would propose to split the route into 37N(orth) and 37S(outh). The schism would occur at 63rd & Admiral Way with 37S covering the route to a transfer to the C-Line at the Alaska Junction and on to 35th Avenue. Stops should be added at Totem Pole Park to allow a transfer to the 21. This would prepare the 37S for a future transfer to Link at Alaska Junction.
Service north of 63rd & Admiral Way would be provided by the 37N. Transfers could happen on Spokane Street to the 21 and the route would be extended slightly to end at SW Andover Street and Delridge Way to connect with the 120 and the future Delridge Link Station. If that is too complex, the bus should end at Sodo station to avoid downtown traffic.
The 216 and 219 are the last routes to review and they represent east King County. The 216 starts at the Bear Creek Park and Ride and proceeds with stops all the way to the Issaquah Highlands Park and ride before converting to an express to downtown Seattle. The 219 has a similar rooting but starts at WA SR 202. Combined, the 216 and 219 have 30 mile long routes, carry 1700 passengers per day , and are late 55% and 54% of the time, respectively. Those reliability figures are the worst of all of Metro’s routes.
The biggest challenge with fixing these two routes is that they are long and have congestion throughout. The most aggressive solution would be to cancel both. All but one of their stops are currently served by the 269 that runs between the Issaquah Transit Center and Overlake. The service hours saved could be used to increase the 269 to at least 15 minute service. It would also allow for better connections to more destinations and make service for Sammamish less Seattle-centric. However, such an action would be very aggressive with East Link opening in only a few years. Perhaps it’s best just to wait for the East Link restructure.
In the Seattle area, the afternoon peak tends to be more congested than the morning peak. The buses listed above have a few things in common: they are peak expresses, run only on weekdays, and the majority of them are long. All of these factors lead to a lack of reliability. Fortunately, grade separated light rail will to allow the truncation and restructuring that should allow more reliable PM commutes.